Many people include a recreational vehicle in their preparedness planning. For some, it is a part of their “Get out of Dodge” plan. For others, it offers temporary accommodation at their retreat location. Neither of these scenarios is an element in the planning that my wife and I have done. But perhaps our experiences with our first camper will be informative to some SurvivalBlog readers in their planning, and entertaining to others.
Camping in Norway
A little more than 30 years ago, my family and I moved to Norway. Norway is a land of rugged natural beauty as well as gracious and helpful people. It is also a very expensive place to live, or even visit. It soon became clear that if we were going to enjoy the country’s rugged natural beauty, we were not going to do it by staying in hotels at night. First of all, there were not that many hotels. Secondly, we just could not afford it.
After diligent searching, we found two major types of accommodation for exploring new areas in Norway. During the children’s autumn vacation from school, when the weather was often poor, demand for rental cabins was down. At that time, it was often possible to rent a cabin at a fraction of what it might cost at other times of year. During the summer, camping offered a budget-friendly alternative for the traveler to rest his weary head at night.
I had camped with my parents in my early childhood, so it was not a new experience for me. We bought a used tent and some sleeping bags, loaded them up along with some canned goods and other groceries in the back of our Volvo 240 DL station wagon, and headed for the hills.
Tent camping with young children was interesting. Asking a group of three eager kids to hand one a tent pole while setting up an interior frame tent was an invitation to adventure as well as grave bodily harm. We froze in frosty mountain meadows and baked on the sunny shores of stunning fjords. We saw scenes of haunting beauty that still echo in our minds.
After about a decade in Norway, we moved back to the United States. A network of family and friends as well as more reasonable hotel and rental cabin rates made tent camping less of a necessity than it had been in Norway. We still used the tent occasionally, but with nothing like the frequency we had used it in Norway. It was no longer the only show in town.
Several years ago, we embarked on a new adventure: being grandparents. Our daughter and son-in-law were fruitful and multiplied. They decided to take the family camping, and invited us to come along. They bought a nice, used pop-up camper at an auction. During the time when they had only one child, the pop-up was large enough to accommodate all of us. When two more children came along, the parents and children stayed in the pop-up, and my wife and I broke out the tent.
For some inexplicable reason, the tent had become significantly more uncomfortable over the course of 30 years. The ground had become harder, bending over to set up the tent had become more difficult, and the interior of the tent had become smaller. We decided that maybe it was time to look for a camper of our own.
Buying a camper during a pandemic is not to be recommended. Many common activities were closed to people by Covid 19. In many places, camping was one of the few leisure activities still allowed. Demand for campers was high and availability was correspondingly low. Whatever came on the market sold quickly at inflated prices.
Our search was further limited by our proposed tow vehicle. We did not want to invest in both a camper and a new vehicle with which to tow it. As a result, we needed to find a camper that was light enough for our current vehicle to tow. That meant that we had to find a camper that weighed less than 1,500 pounds.
We looked at some teardrops, but my wife felt that they would place my snoring throat too close to her waking ear. Some of the lighter A-frames looking promising, but they kept getting snapped up before we even had the chance to look at them. Our search finally led us to a 13-foot fiberglass egg, a 1983 Scamp.
The antecedents of the Scamp stretch back to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1968. Ray Olecko, a former boxer and carnival barker turned fiberglass worker, designed a camper consisting of two molded fiberglass halves. The design made the “Bolar” camper light, sturdy, durable, and water-tight.
In the early 1970s, the Bolar company attempted to extend their operations into the United States. They contracted with a family in Minnesota to manufacture the camper in the US on their behalf. Shortly afterward, the Bolar effort fell apart, leaving the American family with fiberglass molds, but no one to market the finished product. They decided to market the camper on their own, and began to manufacture and market the re-branded “Scamp” camper in 1972. The original 13-foot design is still being manufactured and sold by Scamp today.
Our Scamp is a nicely cared-for and renovated 1983 model. One item that was not updated was the fabric covering the seat/bed cushions. We were married in 1983. The fabric on the cushions was similar to the pattern on our first love seat, purchased new in 1983. Our tastes have changed considerably since 1983. One of the few changes we hope to make to the camper in the coming days is re-covering the upholstery.
When we went to pick up the Scamp, our car had a four-pin connector, and the Scamp had a seven-pin connector. The seller threw in a seven-pin to four-pin adapter for free. When we first hooked the adapter up, things did not work correctly. The seller made a few adjustments, and got things to the point where the brake lights and turn signals worked correctly. The running lights still did not work. It was broad daylight, and we felt that we had plenty of time to get home before dark.
On the way home, we pulled off at an exit for dinner. The sign at the top of the ramp was incorrect, and sent us east when it should have sent us west. With the help of some local road construction, we arrived at the restaurant a half-hour later than we anticipated.
At the restaurant, we were told that there would be a 20-minute wait. Thirty-five minutes later, we were finally seated.
By the time we ordered, were served, paid, and made it back to the car, dinner had cost us a total of about 90 minutes. Suddenly it was no longer certain that we could make it home before dark.
We set off west in pursuit of the sun, which rejoiced as a strong man to run his race, and easily outdistanced us. Finally, about 10 minutes before we arrived home, the sun crossed the finish line, disappearing below the horizon. Fortunately, there were no incidents as the losers of the race drove the home stretch without the benefit of running lights.
I consider wiring trailer lights to be a mystical art, unsuited to common mortals like me. I made an appointment with the Magi at the local trailer shop to work their alchemy upon the Scamp lights.
Several days before my appointment, I decided that I should at least make an attempt to fix the lights myself. As I opened the junction box for the wiring near the hitch, I noted that the wires and screw studs in the box were nicely color-coded. I removed the seven-pin connector, disassembled the four pin-connector from the seven-pin to four-pin adapter, put ring terminals on the end of the four-pin connector wires, and connected them into the appropriately colored screw studs in the junction box. I then tested the lights. The running lights and the right turn signal still did not work properly.
I looked up a wiring diagram on the internet. I noted that when a trailer is properly wired, the green wire is used for the right turn signal, the yellow wire is used for the left turn signal, the brown wire is used for the running lights, and the white wire is used for the ground. Since the right turn signal and the running lights were not working properly, I decided to try switching the green and brown wires. Voila! All the lights now worked perfectly.
The wires for the four-pin connector were a little shorter than I preferred, so I bought a connector with longer wires, and attached it the same way that I had attached the previous connector. Success again!
The Maiden Voyage
Five days later, we loaded up the camper and headed for a state park a couple hours from our home. We were scheduled to rendezvous with our daughter and her family there.
The drive north went well. The Scamp pulled extremely well up to about 65 miles per hour, at which point it started feeling like a parachute. So I kept my speed under 65 miles per hour even though the speed limit was faster in places.
When we arrived, the camper set up very easily. There was not much to it: I backed it into place, jacked it off the hitch, leveled it, put a couple of supporting screw jacks under the rear of the frame, and plugged in the electricity.
The seller provided me with a solar panel which he asserted would keep the battery sufficiently charged to run the refrigerator. I did not test this assertion on this first trip, because we had access to electricity at the camp site. Although I have my doubts about the sufficiency of the panel I was given, I do know that the relatively modest demands of the Scamp’s electrical system would make designing a solar system for it a comparatively simple task.
Our Scamp is theoretically designed to sleep four. The table in the booth in the back folds down level with the seats to form a bed, and the sofa in the front converts into two bunks. Theoretically, two people can sleep in the back bed and one in each of the two front bunks. My assessment is that this would only be possible with four small people who are on very good terms with each other. We used a twin-fitted sheet on the cushions on the back bed and another on the cushion on the lower bunk. The top bunk seemed sturdy enough for a child or other small person, but I would not want to sleep below a full-sized adult in that bunk. The bottom bunk was somewhat claustrophobic at first, and just barely long enough to accommodate my six foot frame. As the first night in the bottom bunk wore on, I gradually became more comfortable there. After having taken turns trying both the back bed and the bottom bunk, my wife and I agreed that both are more comfortable than camp cots.
We did experience several minor inconveniences that we will need to correct before our next trip. If an RV is a part of your preparedness planning, you will want to use it enough so that you can sort out similar challenges before they become nasty surprises in a critical situation.
One of our minor inconveniences was that the water pump for the sink did not work well. It produced the tiniest imaginable trickle of water. I will need to tinker with it before our next trip.
A second inconvenience was that the propane tank was empty, so we could not use the stove. I made the foolish assumption that the seller would include at least a partially full tank with the sale rather than an empty one.
The third inconvenience was that I forgot to take a hatchet. I needed to split some kindling to start a cooking fire. The best alternative to a hatchet that I had with me was using a baton to drive a large filet knife through the wood being split for kindling. I expected that this abuse would destroy the knife, but it worked surprisingly well, with no permanent damage. It also inspired the gentleman at the next site to loan me his hatchet.
In spite of the minor inconveniences, my wife and I are extremely happy with our Scamp. It rained for a portion of our trip. We both noted how much more comfortable it was to stay in the Scamp than in a tent during rainy conditions. Set up and take down were also much quicker and easier than a tent, and the beds were more comfortable than camp cots. Overall, we are very happy with the change.
I did not receive any financial or other inducements to mention any vendor, product, or service in this article.